How to Prepare Yourself for a Recording Session (Vocalists)

Are you new to recording? Do you want to get the most out of your recording dollars? This is a guide that I provide to clients so that they can make sure that they do their best work in a recording session.

Come Fully Rehearsed.
Don’t waste your money by rehearsing or writing in the studio. You want to come in and start working immediately. As a vocalist, you should have the songs completely memorized. You shouldn’t need to read lyrics or music. The phrasing and flow should already be worked out and you should be able to perform the songs acapella, without any background music at all.

All of your concentration needs to be on creating emotion with your voice, getting the tone that you want and performing your best. You shouldn’t have to worry about the words or the notes at all.

Wear comfortable, but quiet clothes.
When you come to record make sure that you are wearing your quietest, most comfortable clothes. Any clothes that rustle like polyester track suits, corduroy, squeaky shoes, big bulky sweaters, and leather jackets are all no-no’s.

Don’t wear jewelry– you don’t want that jingling on your recording. Earrings can hurt if they’re getting pinned to your head with headphones. Leave you cell phone in the control room, because they can cause interference with microphones. I have noticed that “press-to-talk” phones from Nextel and Cingular are the worst culprits in the studio and the Sidekick can cause lots of sound problems.

Get the sounds that you want.
Bring in CDs that have the sounds that you are looking for. Want to get the aggressive distorted vocal from Korn or Nine Inch Nails? Do you want a mellow R&B sound like Al Green or Marvin Gaye? Do you want to get the delay sounds from Perry Farrell from Jane’s Addiction? The engineer that you’re working with should be able choose mics, preamps and compressors to get the tone you want. Everything matters when you’re trying to dial into a sound. How close you are to the mic matters a lot. Most vocals mics are cardioid and they have a proximity effect. This means that as you get closer to the mic, you also get more bass response from the mic and a greater sense of intimacy. Artists like Frank Sinatra and Barry White utilized the proximity response to tune their vocal performances on recordings.

Don’t ask your engineer to put reverb or delay into you headphones. Time based effects, like these, should be added during mix down and actually can cause problems on your recording if they are being piped into you headphones. If you just can’t stand the sound of your own voice in the headphones without effects, then ask the engineer to add as little reverb as possible to avoid any problems later.

Getting a great headphone mix.
One of the engineer’s jobs is to make sure that you have the best possible headphone mix. You should be able to hear yourself and the music that you’re performing with. MCs usually want the headphone mix to be heavy on the drums and the bass so their rhythm is as tight as possible. Singers usually want to emphasize the bass and whatever chordal instruments (piano, guitar, synths) are in the mix so their pitch is correct.

Some vocalists prefer to leave one ear piece off their ear to allow them to hear their voice in the room. This is often a big problem! When you take the ear cup off your ear, the sound from that ear piece is bleeding into the microphone. This can cause the sound of the band to end up on your vocal track causing phase cancellation problems or mix problems for the engineer later on.

If this is what you need to do, ask for headphones that have only one ear piece or bring your own headphones. It’s a good idea to bring your own headphones anyway so that you can listen to yourself on headphones that you already know. Don’t bring crappy headphones! Invest in a set of professional headphones from a good manufacturer. You want the kind that covers your whole ear and feels really comfortable.

Here are my recommended pairs of headphones:

Vic Firth Isolation Headphones. These headphones fit TIGHT on your head and are great for preventing bleed through to mics in the studio. If you need a loud head phone mix and you want to minimize bleed then these are for you. They are made special for drummers who usually need a very loud headphone mix to be louder than their drums. They also block out other sounds in the room and can be used as hearing protectors. Only downside seems to be the rubber ear cups get sweaty in hot or long sessions. These are also not the best sounding headphones in the world and really aren’t designed for critical listening, but for under $50, what do you expect?

Sony Pro MDR-7506 Headphones. These are an industry standard set of studio headphones and they really sound pretty good for the money ($100 or less). They have a “closed ear” design which blocks out some of the outside sounds and prevents bleed into microphones. One of the advantages is that these headphones fold up and come with a nice leather bag for carrying them around. They have both the professional 1/4″ stereo plug and the consumer 1/8″ Stereo plug so you can use them with an MP3 player.

Beyer Dynamic DT-770. These are my favorite all around studio headphones. They have a closed-back design and they block out background sounds. They also do a great job of preventing bleed into the mics. These headphones have some of the best audiophile quality sound that you can buy and they sound simply amazing. After you get used to listening to music with these, you will never go back to an inferior set of cans. They are a little pricey ($250 or less), but they are worth every penny. All of the parts can be ordered in case you wear them out.

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